More F-35 Stealth Jets Join The British Royal Air Force After PM Boris Johnson’s Defense Budget Hike

Days after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a massive increase in the country’s defense budget, the delivery of another batch of F-35B Lightning fighters is likely to further strengthen the British military. The three new aircraft flew across the Atlantic from the United States to the UK.

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With the arrival of the new stealth fighter jets, the strength of the British F-35 fleet now stands at 21, said Air Officer Commanding No 1 Group, Royal Air Force, Allan Marshall. The UK has so far received 21 out of an order of 48 F-35 from the US firm, Lockheed Martin. Of these, 18 are being flown operationally by 617 Squadron, and for training by 207 Squadron Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) at RAF’s Marham airbase.

Britain has plans to field the F-35B in both land- and maritime-based roles, but the priority is to reconstitute the Royal Navy’s carrier strike capability that was affected due to the retirement of the BAE Systems’ Harrier GR9 and the decommissioning of HMS Ark Royal in 2010.

The fighter jet’s short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) capability allows it to operate from the new ‘Queen Elizabeth’-class aircraft carriers and the vessels of allied nations, as well as short airstrips. British and American F-35Bs recently joined HMS Queen Elizabeth ahead of a multinational exercise.

According to a report in Janes, the RAF’s 617 Squadron is set to be joined by the Royal Navy’s (RN’s) 809 ‘Immortals’ Naval Air Squadron (NAS) in 2023. The RAF and RN have separate identities but their 617 Squadron and 809 NAS will be operated as a combined Lightning Force, with a mix of service personnel and pilots.

The fifth-generation fighter jet currently operates alongside Typhoon. A multi-role machine, Lightning is capable of conducting air-to-surface, electronic warfare, intelligence gathering, and air-to-air missions simultaneously.

The UK has plans to eventually have 138 F-35Bs, with 48 of those by 2025. In September, the Ministry of Defense’s most senior civil servant, Permanent Secretary Sir Stephen Lovegrove, however, had stated that the 138 number was the “upper limit” of how many jets would eventually be purchased, but “more than 48”, the current total order, would be bought.

Last week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had pledged a whopping £16.5-billion ($22 billion) increase in the military budget, which is the UK’s largest defense spending in 30 years. The British Navy will be seeing a massive boost amid the plans of purchasing Type 32 warships and continue the construction of eight Type 26 and five Type 31 frigates.

Johnson had said that the budget would re-establish the UK as “the foremost naval power in Europe” with a “renaissance of British shipbuilding across the UK”.